This time of year is crazy, isn’t it? That time between Thanksgiving and Christmas? For our family we find ourselves running around trying to recover from one holiday and gear up for the next. Throw autism into the mix, and it’s a whole different ballgame.
Let me explain….
My son, T.J., is 16 and has autism.
Over the years, our holidays have varied between seamless and disaster. We have had to find what works for our family and tweak it year after year, as different locations, people, and the changes in T.J. himself change how he reacts and behaves.
This year, both T.J. and his brother Peter, 15, had the entire Thanksgiving week off from school. Thank you, school district! Those few extra days sure do help our family out!
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we drove from our home in Vermont to my sister’s home in Boston. My sister and her husband have 4 kids and the cousins all really love each other. But get those monkeys together and the noise level definitely goes up a notch or twelve.
T.J. has learned over time to find a quiet spot for himself in my sister’s house, and retreat there when he needs to have a break. Everyone is very accepting of whatever T.J. needs to do to be ok with the increase in activity and noise. No problem.
Thanksgiving day comes along, and we all pile into cars to caravan to our cousin’s house in Connecticut. Our Thanksgiving crew has grown as our families have grown, and we are quite the loving, rowdy, laughing, fun filled bunch! It’s really a wonderful group of family, filled with love and understanding for our T.J., who finds his coping mechanism on his own each year. This year, he spent a lot of time on his iPad and headphones, with breaks in between, and not only was Thanksgiving day a huge success for our noise-sensitive guy, he even stood up and made the most beautiful toast at the beginning of the feast. It brought me to tears, as he expressed his love for his family so eloquently.
The day after Thanksgiving was another wonderful one, back in Boston, seeing the wonderful family who could not make it to the feast in Connecticut. A little more low-key than Thanksgiving day, yet still filled with activity. T.J. did a great job, and we all had a wonderful time.
On Saturday, as we drove home to Vermont, I reflected on T.J. and his behavior over the past few days. I beamed as I thought of how far he has come - no more meltdowns during the holiday, as he has figured out what works best for him, and how we have all supported his coping skills with the craziness of the travel and people.
I felt so proud.
My husband, Sean, reminded me as we drove that we needed to stop at the outlets to try to find some new jeans for our constantly growing boys. We knew it would be chaotic, as the outlets were filled with holiday shoppers, but we also knew that desperate times call for desperate measures. So we stopped.
Long story short, we knew the crowds would be too much for T.J., so we decided to try on jeans for sizing purposes only, and order them on line after we got home.
What I didn’t know, and what Peter told me later, is that T.J. was muttering curse words under his breath the entire time we were there. He was really stressed out, and holding it together by a thread.
Which explains his behavior when we finally got home.
Without going into details, T.J. exhibited some strong words and signs of anger to both Sean and I after we were home. The only one who could get through to him and help calm him down was his brother Peter, our hero of the day.
After the close call, and after T.J. and Peter were both settled in back at home, I thought to myself how stupid I can be.
Here I was, walking around like normal and like everything is fine, when brewing beneath the surface of my sweet T.J. was a stressed out boy with autism percolating, ready to blow.
How had I forgotten the years past, when my focus was so keenly placed on how T.J. was doing? How had I forgotten that his ability to cope with noise, activity and stress is finite?
I have no good excuse. And to be quite honest, I don’t really need one.
Over the years, we have learned what works and what doesn’t. Our whole family. This includes me! I am ok with however T.J. needs to learn what works for him. Why was I not ok with how I need to learn what works with him?
On this journey with autism, I have to remember that it is ok to give myself permission to not be right all the time. I am human. I slip up. I forget what I need to do.
As long as no one gets hurt, I am allowed to make mistakes, and continue to learn, just like my boys are. I have to remember to be as flexible with my own learning as I am with theirs.
Of course I felt silly that I forgot this, but whatever gets all of us through the holidays with laughter and love and wonderful memories and new traditions is 100% ok with me.
Live and learn. Every day.
I hope you all enjoy your holidays with your families just as much as I look forward to enjoying my holidays with mine. With patience, love, respect, room for error, and flexibility!